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Clothes shopping in Saudi

“Where can I try on this dress?”

In November 2020, the following answers are possible in Saudi Arabia:

  • We don’t have fitting rooms. You may pay for the clothes, take them home and try them on there. If something does not fit you, you can return or exchange it within 2 days of purchase, make sure to keep the receipt.
  • Our shop does not have a fitting room, usually you could try on clothes in the separate area of this shopping mall, where fitting rooms are located. You would have to pay for them first of course. But alas, at this time it is not permitted to try on clothes elsewhere than at home.
  • Our fitting rooms are temporarily closed due to safety measures.

The Saudi phenomenon “we don’t have fitting rooms” left me speechless around one year ago when Tamer first took me to various stores, long before “corona time”. I made a mental note to write something about this one day. It is a bit strange to share such content during this period, because I know that, for example, clothing stores in Slovenia are closed at this time. We had a complete lockdown in Saudi Arabia in April and May, and partial curfew in Jeddah was dragged well into June.

Shopping with mandatory face masks

This week we went for some shopping again, and I chose 3 pieces of clothing. Nothing special, I know I will need and wear them. All 3 tunics were about the same size, loose and comfy in appearance. We came home and I started with a home fashion show in the living room. Two tunics suited me perfectly! The third? Nope, it didn’t work. The top was so weirdly out of shape and too big, so I felt like a sack of potatoes, and the part over the hips was too tight, very uncomfortable. “This will have to be returned, I won’t even look for a replacement, it’s a strange piece anyway.” And so we returned it the next day.

At China Town Space Mall

Can you imagine such complications every time you wanted to buy clothes? What a waste of time that is! That’s why I’m not always in the mood for such purchases. I love browsing beautiful dresses, but I don’t like to be disappointed when something doesn’t fit. The size may be right, but sometimes a dress or pants simply don’t look good when we put them on.

Perhaps the experience could be compared to online shopping. I don’t practice that much myself. I do have one experience however, when I ordered a dress online that matched my exact measurements, but in the end it was still not the right fit for me.

What do you think about some Saudi shops without fitting rooms? Do you shop more online now since clothing stores may be less available or closed? Do you also have a bad experience with your shipment?
Stop by in the comments, I will be happy to hear from you. 

Home sweet home

Every new home needs time. In a foreign country, where expats like to save up, we approach many things even more prudently.

Before I first came to Saudi Arabia last year, my better half had already rented an apartment. A month before my arrival, we were somewhat anxious whether we would find the right place in time at all. Most of the flats are too big, larger families are more common here. First, he searched for ads online, then he was driving around chosen neighborhoods and continued to call phone numbers from bulletin boards in front of the apartment buildings. He went on quite a few tours, took photos of some locations, others I could see live on video calls. Just a few weeks before my arrival, we finally found the right one. A one-bedroom apartment with a spacious living room with affordable rent.

“What colors do you want to paint the walls with,” he asked me still at long distance. I chose Tuscan yellow for the living room and a gentle lilac for the bedroom. Then he hurried on with the furniture.

Everything, just about everything except the curtains, bed linens and appliances, we bought second hand. Flea market here is really booming, furniture and other goods are sold by both Saudis and expats; the former are enthusiastic consumers who quickly get tired of their furniture and are hungry for modern new trends, the latter, in case of their so called final exit and return to their homeland, quickly sell everything they want to get rid of. In both cases, buyers with some patience and a little sense for bargaining can come up with very favorable acquisitions.

Although we started our nesting remotely, I really enjoyed every decision we made together for each purchase. I drew the floor plans and envisioned the pieces of furniture. When I finally arrived, we still had a lot of work to do. I kept getting new and new ideas of what we needed and what we could do to improve the comfort of our home.

After about a month, we were finally satisfied with all the equipment and supplies, we were able to start just enjoying our new home. Well, every now and then I still get a feeling of restlessness and when I look around the apartment, a trace of inspiration on my face betrays me that I already have new ideas for improvements or decorations.


I ring the doorbell in front for the reception to buzz me in. I come covered with a face mask because we have to wear them in all public places; there’s also a notice for it on the poster before I enter.

Last time I was in a beauty salon it was more than 6 months ago, before we all fell under these safety measures. I came for a pedicure at that time as well. There’s another customer in front of me at the counter, I have to wait. I really hope to pass the whole thing with English because I’m still pretty shy with my Arabic. Last time I came with a friend who arranged everything in Arabic, I practically didn’t have to say a word.

Another woman appears in the reception area from the background. She approaches the receptionist and addresses me as soon as she notices me.

– Russian?
– No, no. Slovene.

She caught me by surprise. Usually people here don’t quite know “where to put me”. Since I don’t have a typical Slavic accent, I often mislead them. Some do not differentiate between Westerners, and Slovenia is still unknown to them. In Sudan, for example, I was declared Turkish, but that’s only because white skinned Turks are most common there, and of course the country is not much visited by tourists. There was also my loosely wrapped scarf, which supposedly marked me as a Turkish lady.

But this woman, who I assumed was a Saudi, and maybe even the owner of the salon, took me for a Russian, therefore Slavic, after only a few seconds. Her assessment was even more surprising because she could only see half of my face with my blue eyes.

After a short exchange of pleasantries, I was glad to be able to agree on the price and service in English.

– 50 riyals for pedicure. But if you also decide for a facial and eyebrow coloring, then we can offer you a special promotion for 100 riyals.
– No, no. I just need a pedicure, having some issues with my toenails. I will surely come with a friend another time.

After a few extra attempts to persuade me to dye my eyebrows, I managed to convince them that I only need a pedicure. At the same time, I began to wonder what the hell was wrong with my eyebrows. Then I noticed that basically everyone around, employees and customers, already had a coat of paint applied to their eyebrows. Apparently I have no idea about the fashion trends or they had some excess in their coloring inventory.

After payment was made, I entered the back rooms, where I took off my abaya and also left my silk scarf with it on the hanger. It’s so refreshing to step into this closed world where women take off their veils and take time for themselves.

The receptionist escorted me to one of the employees, who was just taking a break and browsing her phone. I recognized the Filipina Lucy from last time.

I was really happy that she would be the one taking care of me and that’s what I told her. Then Lucy had another try at me with their special offer and nudged me for the eyebrows. With smiley eyes and hidden concern, I turned down the proposal one last time. Then she directed me to a pedicure chair and got to work. Strong and not so small Filipina grabbed my right and then my left leg with gestures of an experienced professional, one that no one dares or is even able to escape, especially when she works on you with the wooden foot file to such a tickling extent that made me wave my hands around and clench my fists. Luckily I wore the mask that kept my grimaces at least partially hidden. Lucy was visibly trying to suppress her grin.

Just like many months ago, she didn’t disappoint me this time either. I left the salon satisfied, my feet thankful to be light again. I just had to calm down my eyebrows in the mirror. “You’re fine.”

Dive in

I dived in headfirst. Climbed out and like a child jumped back into the water again. Then the coach blew her whistle for the end of our class. “Just one more time?” She nods and I’m back in the pool the next second, swimming one last length to the other side, mind you – I left my flip-flops there, of course I have to swim, no other way. Hehehe.

Yesterday I joined a swimming class. Not a big deal, right? Yeah, but in Saudi it can be a bit difficult to find the right kind of recreation for yourself if you’re a woman. Example: they only have separate gyms according to gender and luck would have it, ladies gyms are a bit more expensive. Then there’s a dilemma what you might wear, if you decide to work out outside.
That’s why I was really happy, when my Egyptian friend referred me to a sports society, which also organizes swimming classes, women only swimming classes. Wonderful.

What followed was a challenge, titled: “a search for regular sporty swimsuit, because the genius, writing this letter, forgot hers back in Ljubljana (Slovenia).”

Three days. We were running around Jeddah for three days, looking for a simple one piece swimsuit. We went to every store the ladies on Jeddah FB forum recommended me. Some shops didn’t even have women’s swimsuits. Others only had the “modest” type with long sleeves and possibly a skirt. “Ah, come on. I’m going to a women-only class, I really don’t need to wear a burkini there.”

Finally we found an athletic store with the so called western equipment and with that the well known western brands. That also meant a significant difference in prices. To top it off their fitting rooms were closed due to corona (btw fitting rooms in KSA deserve a separate letter sometime soon), and despite of that they did not offer any return policy, in case the swimsuit wasn’t the right fit. After a dramatic exit from the shop in question we had to try one more location, which was my last shot to find something suitable. We went to out favorite mall, where you can in fact get whatever you need/want.

We’ve been to the “space mall in China town” countless times for many necessities and trinkets, but this time I didn’t think I would get so lucky. But I found it. The regular one piece swimsuit, and in my size too. I also got a sleeveless top made from the same material, which I was planning to pair up with my over the knee gym leggings, in case I wouldn’t have found the swimsuits after all.

In the end I packed both options with me to the swim class and chose to wear the latter one. My choice proved to be a reasonable one at the pool side, since the majority of women were wearing something similar. “Perhaps,” I thought to myself, “perhaps they didn’t feel like shaving either, just like me.”

The end of Esmeralda

A month from now my friend Maya and I won’t be asking each other anymore: “did you watch the today’s episode?”

We won’t be swearing anymore, how we ourselves would NEVER give a second chance to Jose Armando.

Everything comes to an end.

Shall we make a plan, to watch it all over again in 20 years?


Driving in Saudi Arabia

In this month of June we can celebrate 2 years since Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on women driving. Saudi women have since then become more independent, it’s easier for them to tackle the job market and they feel, as they say, more powerful. I wish to express my utmost respect to all the women and men who sacrificed their efforts and freedom to make this ban lifting happen. I sat down at the wheel myself this spring and drove alongside the beach on the streets of Jeddah. Before I… Read More

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